Friday, November 4, 2016

A Love Letter to the Library

It dawned on me the other day that I’ve gotten spoiled. Being a student at USF means that, not only do I have access to all of the books from any USF campus, but I also have access to any book that is part of larger library consortiums like Interlibrary Loan and UBorrow. So basically, I have access to any book I could desire—for free! And you want to know what’s the icing on the cake? As a graduate student, I can check books out of the library for SIX MONTHS! All of this in exchange for taking a few classes and writing a thesis! Yes, it’s a good deal.

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I come from a long line of library-lovers. When we were little, my mother used to take my sister and me to the library several times a week to read books in the carpeted nooks and check out our favorites to bring home with us—as exciting as taking home the class pet! As I grew older, the library became my refuge, the place I could bike to and not be disturbed by my parents and annoying little sister. I always had a revolving collection of library books on my bookshelf (a habit that persists to this day), never satisfied with only taking out one book at a time.

Side note: Although I am a lover of books, I prefer not to buy any if I don’t have to—unless I’ve read it already and really, really loved it. Book lovers with a bad case of wanderlust, like me, must be conscious of the possessions they acquire, and although I rarely buy books, they somehow seem to propagate on my bookshelves while I sleep!

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In college, I worked in the Frost Library as one of my on-campus student jobs. I can’t express to you how much I loved getting to work, punching in my card, grabbing a rolling cart full of freshly returned books, and taking the elevator down into the bowels of the building where I spent the next few hours in haunting quiet, reading call numbers and shelving books. Sometimes, when I found a book that piqued my interest, I’d take a seat and thumb through it for a few minutes before moving onto the next book in my cart.

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My college library was named for this great American poet
Once, in my sophomore year, we broke into the library in the middle of the night and played an energetic game of capture the flag. I remember running up echoing stairwells and hiding in dusty study carrels as we tried to find our opponents flag and bring it home. I don’t remember who organized it or who won, or even if we got caught, but I do remember it being one of the most thrilling nights of my college experience.

When I travel, I always like to check out the public library. I believe that you can judge a place by their library (which says a lot about places like Miami that continuously cut library hours year after year). On my first day in Australia, I remember going to the main library in Brisbane and being duly impressed by their high tech set-up. I’ve spent time at the gorgeous library in Juneau, Alaska, a beautiful multi-storied building that sits right on the harbor so you can watch the boats pull in from the window. Ever been to the New York Public Library? So freaking majestic.

As a writer, the library is a trusted friend. Like an artist who wanders the aisles of their favorite art store, looking for supplies and inspiration, writers find their tribe amidst the pages of love-worn library books. To me, libraries are also sacred space for reflection and silence—much-needed in our world where silence is endangered. In Miami, when I needed a place to write late at night, I found that the University of Miami law library never closed not did they check IDs. In fact, I have a library card from everywhere I’ve been for longer than a few weeks: Miami, Melbourne (Australia), Amherst, Tampa, Belchertown—and hopefully this list will continue to grow.
A small sampling from my collection of beloved library cards
But it’s not only the writers who flock to the sacred space of the library. Several times a week, my father makes the trip to the iconic Coral Gables Library and bugs the librarian about an obscure book or simply reads a magazine on one of the sofa chairs. The library is a place for anyone and everyone: children, grandparents, students, the homeless, locals, itinerant travelers, and anyone in between. I think it speaks to my love and respect for libraries that anytime I’m with a child, whether a cousin or a babysitting charge, I always always always take them to the library—like my mother did with me and my sister when we were kids.

There is something special about sharing public space, and the library is one of the few places in our society where we can simply be without being consumers or producers. It’s a neutral space, which is probably why many of our polls in this election are at libraries. Libraries are also a community space—something hard to find in our highly individualistic American culture. They are meeting places, places of learning. I’ve had the good fortune of giving several writing workshops at my local library (Writing the Family History, Memoir Writing), as well as attending my fair share of classes throughout the years. In fact, I met a woman who became my dear friend, Adrienne, because we both showed up to an off-the-cuff writing class at the Coconut Grove Library on a Wednesday evening, and we haven’t stopped talking or sharing work since.

Image result for library memes Unfortunately, I fear that I have not been able to take advantage of my privileged library situation as much as I would have liked to during my time at USF. Taking graduate classes means that there is not much time for your own personal reading choices. Rather, I will leave graduate school with a gargantuan list of must-read books and authors that were recommended to me but I haven’t had the chance to read yet. I have started to get seriously concerned about how I will get my library fix once I graduate from USF and no longer have a working student ID and convenient access to millions of libraries across the nation! When I voice my distress to my teacher and my boyfriend, they remind me that lots of places have libraries and I need not worry.

After they calm my fears, I think of the libraries I’ve visited around the world, and my own mini collection of library cards, and I breathe a sigh of relief. This library lover may be losing her privileged grad student status soon, but the world of libraries will continue to provide me with the shelter and inspiration that every writer—and I would argue, every person—needs.

Publication update: I've got a short story at Cuba Counterpoints and a column at BUST online! Thanks so much for your support! :)